Italdesign recreates Top Gear river stunt with Fiat Panda 4x4

Who ever said engineering is boring? Italdesign, responsible for a designing raft of Fiats, Alfas and more, had to design a literal raft for its homage to Top Gear

There probably wasn’t much doubt that Italdesign Giugiaro is made up of proper petrolheads. Co-founded by automotive design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro and now part of Lamborghini, they’ve been responsible for all-time classics like the Alfasud, Lancia Delta, DeLorean DMC-12 and Maserati MC12.

It’s no surprise then that the company’s idea of a team building exercise is to replicate one of television series Top Gear’s most famous stunts – building a raft to cross a body of water, with car strapped atop it.

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Unlike the Top Gear: Africa Special in which Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May piloted a BMW 528i Touring, Subaru Impreza WRX estate and Volvo 850 R wagon respectively, Italdesign selected a car from their own archive of past designs, the Mk2b Fiat Panda 4x4.

Both outwardly and inwardly simple, the Mk2b Panda 4x4 was a city car turned tough as nails. Thanks to utilitarian workhorses like the humble Land Rover gaining mainstream popularity and its prices escalating accordingly, the humble Panda 4x4 offers serious bang for buck in the classic market.

Though later Panda 4x4s featured a slightly larger 1.2-litre engine, the 1.0-litre unit found in the earlier Mk2 had a reputation for being unstoppable, with some racking up north of 300,000 miles in the hands of fastidious owners. A perfect choice then for some rather unusual experiments – including being carted across a lake by a hand-built raft.

Assembled with 12 oil barrels –painted in the same blue hue as of Italdesign’s Panda 4x4, naturally –tied with wooden boards, it looks a whole lot more structurally sound that the former Top Gear gang’s attempt at a hodgepodge raft (below).

Despite that, it oddly seemed to have the same design defect as Clarkson & Co’s attempt, the front-left corner of the raft dipping perilously close to the water. Regardless, it was smooth sailing to the other end of the lake, with a much more graceful return to land than the stunt it was inspired by. Though they had a whole team of people on hand to assist, instead of three English blokes bickering over what to do. That’s bound to make a difference.

‘I think this team experience would have been worth getting wet and losing the car. I saw that they really had a really good time and we all took something from that, including me. It would have been worth an even more expensive car’ surmised Italdesign CEO Joerg Astalosch.

It might have worked with a more expensive car too. But I think we’d prefer it if they left priceless concept cars like the Scighera back on dry land, safe and sound.

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